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Sermon XXIII

SERMON XXIII.

THE HARVEST PAST.

Jeremiah viii. 20. The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

Man is placed upon the earth that he may prepare for eternity. His errand in this world is not to gain its wealth, to secure its honors, or to taste its pleasures. He has time enough to prepare well for a boundless existence, but he has none to lose; he may make each hour send an influence ever onward into the interminable duration before him, but if it is suffered to pass by unimproved it cannot be recalled; he may make the whole of life a probation, but he can convert no part of eternity into a preparation for what is beyond. As a season of preparation for eternity, life may be regarded as sustaining the same relation which spring and summer do to the harvest. There is a time to plow and sow, and there is an appropriate time for the harvest, and if these are neglected, a gloomy winter sets in when there can be no sowing, and when it will be too late to secure a harvest. There are favorable seasons in life to secure salvation. They are, one after another, fast passing away. When gone they cannot be recalled; and the favorable influence which might have been secured to bear on our future being is gone forever. We can no more recall it than the farmer can command the sun of spring-time to rise again, or the showers and dews of summer to come down in the dreary winter. The opportunity of salvation will have passed away forever.

These truths I wish now to illustrate, by employing the text with the same design with which it was first used in reference to the Jews. There was a. time when they might have obtained the favor of God; a time, when, if they had listened to his voice by the prophets, their temple, and city, and nation might have been spared. But it was now too late. That time had passed away, and could not be recalled. The forbearance of God was exhausted, and their beautiful house of worship, their city, and their land were to be given up to destruction.

In illustrating the subject before us, I shall submit to you a series of propositions which will at once command your assent, and which, I trust, will lead to the conclusion to which I desire to conduct you, that no time is to be lost in securing the salvation of the soul.

I. Life is made up of a series of probations. Its various parts are favorable periods for affecting the future. The present may be so used as to be of advantage to us hereafter. From the present we may send an influence forward that shall meet us in time to come, and that shall be worth to us there more than all which it cost us. . .

These various modes of expressing the thought mean substantially the same thing, and are repeated only that there may be no possibility of misunderstanding the import of the proposition. A few illustrations will make this general truth plain.

(1.) Life is a probation in regard to the friendship and favor of our fellow-men. We do not at once step into their confidence without a trial. There is no original presumption in regard to our character, our learning, our talents, our capacity for business, which will secure us the confidence of others without trial. There may be no presumption against us except that which always exists in relation to the depraved tendencies of a fallen nature, but there is none in our favor which can be used as capital with which to claim their confidence. Even when there are all the advantages of birth, and blood; of hereditary honor, patriotism, or talent, the world demands of us evidence that we are worthy of its confidence before that confidence is bestowed. The favors which it has to confer, are reserved for those who shall evince in suitable circumstances that they are worthy of the trust, and that they have endowments which will fit them for the performance of the duties to be discharged. It is iu this way only that we can secure a reputation for commercial integrity or professional ability; that we can gain an office in the state that may be of value to us, or the friendship of the wise and good; or that we can lay the foundation for lasting usefulness or fame. Many a man thus toils through a long and weary life to secure by his good conduct something which bis fellow-men have to bestow in the shape of honor or office, content at last, if even when gray hairs are thick upon him, he may lay his hand on the prize which has glittered before him in all the journey of life.

(2.) Especially is this true of the young. Of no young man is it presumed that he is qualified for office, or business, or friendship, until he has given evidence of such qualification. I have found in my own experience, and as far as my observation has extended, have seen that the world is kindly disposed toward young men, and that there are no interests so dear that men are not willing to commit them to their hands when they are satisfied that they are qualified to defend them, and to transmit them to future times. All the blood-bought blessings of liberty; all the endowments of colleges and schools; all the offices of the state, and all the interests of religion and benevolence, they are willing to entrust to the young as soon as they have evidence that those interests will be safe in their hands; and then, those who have bled, and toiled, and labored hardest for these things, and who have prized them most, will lie calmly down and die! But they demand evidence that the young are qualified for the trust before it is committed to their hands; nor will the chairs of the presidents and professors in our seminaries of learning; nor the seats of senators or judges; nor the pulpits or the executive offices of the land, be confided to the young until by their lives they have convinced those who hold them at their disposal that they are worthy of the great avid momentous trust.

(3.) The study of a profession, or apprenticeship, is such a probation. It is just a trial to determine whether the young man will be worthy of the confidence which he desires, and it will decide the amount of honor or success which the world will give him. The world is keen-eyed in regard to this; much more so than most young men are aware. There is an eye of public vigilance on every young man from which he cannot escape." The world watches his movements; learns his character; marks his defects; records and remembers his virtues. There is an arrangement in the course of events that will determine his future life in accordance with the character which he has formed, and from which he cannot escape. There is an unseen, but withering influence that attends a young man that is idle, dissipated, or unprincipled, that will go with him, like an evil genius, to distant climes; that will cross oceans with him, and start up to meet him in polar snows or on barren sands; that will stand in his way every where, and that he cannot escape. And there is a happy influence, of more value than the fabled genius of Socrates, which will go with every young man, who, by industry and early virtue, has shown himself worthy the confidence of mankind, and which will attend him around the world.

(4.) The whole of this probation for the future often depends on some single action that shall determine the character, and that shall send an influence ever onward. Every thing seems to be concentrated on a single point. A right or a wrong decision then settles every thing. The moment when in the battle at Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington could say, "This will do," decided the fate of the battle, and of kingdoms. A wrong movement just at that point-might have changed the condition of the world for centuries. In every man's life there are such periods; and probably in the lives of most men their future course is more certainly determined by one such far-reaching and central decision, than by many actions in other circumstances. They are those moments when honor, wealth, usefulness, health, and salvation seem all to depend on a single resolution. It seems to be a small matter for a young man to deliberate whether he shall or shall not partake of a social glass of intoxicating drink with a friend; and yet on the result of such a deliberation has depended the whole career of many a man. So it may seem a small matter for him to visit a gambling-room, or a theatre once; or to form a friendship with some well-introduced and genteel looking stranger; and yet the whole of his future destiny may depend on the decision of that moment. The reason is this. It is the crisis of the life. It settles a principle. It determines whether he will listen to the voice of reason and conscience; to parental counsel and to God, or whether he is to he under the control of passion and appetite. Everything is concentrated on that point—like one of Napoleon's movements at the bridge of Lodi, or at Austerlitz. If that one point is carried, the whole field may soon be won. In the decision which a young man often makes at that point, there is such a breach made on his virtuous principles; there is such an array of temptations pouring into the breach—like an army pouring into a city when a breach is made in a wall—that henceforward there is almost no resistance, and the citadel is taken. Of all those who have become the victims of intemperance, it would be found, probably, that the mischief was done at some such decisive moment in their lives; and of those who have lived honored and useful lives, it might also be found that their whole career was- determined by some single act of decided resistance to temptation.

II. My second general remark is, that when a time of probation is passed, it cannot be recalled. If it has been improved aright, the advantages which it conferred in shaping the future life, will abide; if it has been misimproved or abused, it will be too late to repair the evil. At no subsequent period can the advantages be secured which might have been secured then. This principle is so plain that it will be admitted to be true without an attempt to prove it. An illustration or two will prepare us for the use which I intend to make of it.

A young man is fitting for a profession, or for commercial life. If he suffers the time usually allotted to such a preparation to pass away in idleness or vice, it will soon be too late to recall his neglected or wasted opportunities. There are advantages in preparing for a profession in youth, which cannot be secured at. a subsequent period of life. A young man is professedly acquiring an education. If he suffers the time of youth to be spent in indolence, the period will soon arrive when it Will be too late for him to repair the evil. In the acquisition of languages; in the formation of industrious habits; in cultivating an acquaintance with past evenW, he has opportunities then which can be secured at no other time of life. At no future period can he do what he was fitted to do then, and what ought to have been done then. Whatever opportunities there were then to prepare for the future, are now lost, and it is too late to recall them. The period has passed away, and all that follows must be unavailing regret. We cannot roll the wheels of time backward. We cannot return and travel over the joumey anew. We cannot place ourselves in the past where we now see that we missed the way, and direct our steps in the right path. Seldom does a man find gray hairs admonishing him that life is soon to end, without having occasion to recall many such neglected opportunities ; many abused privileges; much wasted time and talent, and no small part of the lives of old men is filled with regrets at the remembrance of such abused mercies. It may seem like a digression from my main design, but I cannot here withhold a remark on the amount of abused and wasted talent every where in the world. I advert to it to call the attention of the young to what they may soon have occasion to regret with tears. It is, the fact that so much time is squandered, and so many opportunities neglected, where a hnppy influence might be sent forward to future years, but where preparations, are now making only for a harvest of woes. "What a fool you are, Paley," said a young man in a British university, "to be wasting your time in idleness and dissipation. You have talents which might raise you to eminence. I have none; and it is of no consequence how I act." Paley took the hint, though roughly made, and rose like a clear light, and shed a lustre on the age and the literature of his nation, and England boasts no son of greater acuteness, perhaps none of wider influence than he. Let any one with the recollections of his own wasted hours, and with any just views of the value of time, look over this or any other city or land, and he cannot do it but with emotions of unutterable sorrow. In all our cities, towns, and villages; in even our colleges and schools, there is talent that is now buried, ruined, wasted: that is now, and that is to be in this world and the next a blighting and a curse, that might adorn the bar, the senate, or the pulpit; that might resist with success the evils of profligacy and infidelity, and that might bear every blessing of science and civilization around the

globe. From those lips which now give utterance to horrid blasphemy, the gospel "in strains as sweet as angels use," might "whisper peace;" and those frames now hastening to the dishonored grave of the drunkard, might endure the cold of northern climes, or the heat of Arabian deserts, in diffusing the blessings of civilization and Christianity; and those hands that will soon tremble as if palsied by age under the influence of intoxicating drinks, might make the wilderness and the solitary place glad, and the desert blossom as the rose. All that we would ask to secure the conversion of this whole world to virtue, would be merely the talent that is now preparing to be a blighting and a curse. Soon to that mass of expanding youthful intellect the opportunity of preparing for future usefulness will have passed away; and it will be too late to prepare to accomplish any thing for the welfare of mankind. I need not pause here to remark on the painful emotions which visit the bosom in the few cases of those who are reformed after a wasted and dissipated youth. Cases of such reformation sometimes occur. A man after the errors and follies of a dissipated early life 5 after he has wasted the opportunities which he had to obtain an education; after all the abused care and anxiety of a parent to prepare him for future usefulness and happiness, sometimes is aroused to see the error andV folly of his course. What would he not give to be able to retrace that course, and to live over again that abused and wasted life! But it is Too Late. The die is cast for this life—whatever may be the case in regard to the life to come.

III. The general propositions which I have endeavored to illustrate, are true in a much more important sense in regard to religion. The proposition, as applicable to religion, is, that there are favorable seasons for securing the salvation of the soul, which if suffered to pass away unimproved, cannot be recalled. There are times in the life of each individual which may be regarded as the "summer," or the "harvest," in reference to salvation; and which, if suffered to pass away unimproved, will leave the mind to unavailing regret that it is now too late. The grand purpose, as I have already remarked, for which God has placed us on earth, is to prepare for what is beyond the grave. It is not to obtain wealth, or to acquire honor, or to enjoy pleasure here; it is to prepare for the world beyond. This could be easily shown did my subject call for it, or were it a proposition that would be likely to be disputed. One consideration is enough now. It is, that all the honors, and wealth, and learning, and worldly happiness which man Can gain, are wholly disproportionate to the vast powers with which God has endowed us. They leave a " void," an impression which we can never get rid of, that we were made for a higher and nobler purpose. It would be unlike God to create such vast powers for so unworthy ends j and men must, and will, and should look forward to the retributions of another state. On the same principle, therefore, on which he has made future character and happiness in this life dependent on our conduct in those seasons which are times of probation, has he made all the eternity of our existence dependent on the conduct of life regarded as a season of probation. And on the same principle on which he has appointed favorable seasons for sowing and reaping, he has appointed favorable seasons to secure our salvation. -For it is no more to be presumed of any man without trial that he is prepared for heaven, than it is that a young man will be a good merchant, lawyer, or physician, without trial.

There are periods, therefore, which God has appointed as favorable seasons for salvation; times when there are peculiar advantages for securing religion, and which will not occur again. There are advantages in regard to salvation at those periods of life which can be found at no other period; seasons of favorable influence which may be called the " summer," and the " harvest time," for becoming Christians, which can be secured at no other period of life. If the advantages of such seasons be suffered to pass away unimproved, they cannot be recalled, nor can they be secured at any other period, any more than the youth who has been idle while he should have been preparing for future life, can ever find the same advantages again. Let us, at this stage of our remarks, look at some of those seasons.

Foremost among them is Youth—the most favorable time always for becoming a Christian. Then the heart is tender, and the conscience is easily impressed, and the mind is more free from cares than at a future period, and there is less difficulty in breaking away from the world, and usually less dread of the ridicule of others. Then numerous promises in the Bible meet us, assuring us that God loves those that love him, and that they who seek him early shall find him. No peculiar promise is made to man in middle life, or in old age. The time of youth compared with old age has about the same relation to salvation, which spring-time and summer compared with winter, have with reference to a harvest. The chills and frosts of age are about as unfavorable to conversion to God as the frosts and snows of December are to the cultivation of the earth. He who surfers the time of youth to pass by intending to become a Christian when he is old, is acting in about the same way in which he would act, who should surfer the genial suns of April, and May, and June to pass by, and should intend to strike his plough in the soil when stern winter throws his icy chains over streams and fields, and when the whole earth has become like a hard rock. The great mass of those who are saved, are converted in early life; and when that season passes away, it is like the passing away of spring and summer in reference to the harvest. At no future period of life can you find the same advantages for becoming a Christian. You may live many years; and in future life I do not deny that you may find some advantages for becoming religious, and I do not deny that you may then become a Christian. But whatever there was in that season that was peculiarly favorable will return no more, and can be found no where else. And when you have stepped over the limits of youth unconverted, you have gone beyond the most favorable time you can ever have for preparing for heaven. But suppose that youth is to be all of your life, and you were to die before you reached middle life, what then will be your doom?

A season when your mind is awakened to the subject of religion, is such a favorable time for salvation. All persons experience such seasons; times when there is an unusual impression of the vanity of the world, of the evil of sin, of the need of a Saviour, and of the importance of being prepared for heaven. These are times of mercy, when God is speaking to the soul. All men, I say, experience them. They do not occur, indeed, often in political excitements; in the pressure of business; in the struggles of ambition; or amidst the dense throng that is crowding on for gain or honor. But they occur when those stormy scenes are lulled to repose, or in the intervals when the mind is turned away from them; in the evening, when weary and sad, you come home to the quiet of the family; in the stillness of the Sabbath,when the thoughts are turned to the world of rest; in the sanctuary, when the words of the gospel drop like the rain, and distil like the dew; in the moments of calm retrospection, when a man sits down to think over the past, and when he cannot but think of the life to come ; on the bed of sickness, when he is shut out from the world, and in those moments when he thinks, he scarcely knows why, of the grave, of judgment, of eternity. Those are 'summer' suns in regard to salvation. Compared with the agitations and strifes of public life, they are with reference to salvation what gentle summer suns are to the husbandman, compared with the storm and tempest when the lightnings flash, and the hail beats down the harvest which he had hoped to reap. And the farmer may as well expect to till his soil, and sow and reap his harvest, when the black cloud rolls up the sky, and the pelting storm drives on, as a man expect to prepare for heaven in the din of business, in political conflicts, and in the struggles of gain and ambition. But all—all that is favorable for salvation, in such serious moments, will soon pass away, and when gone they cannot be recalled. They are favorable Kioments, sent by a merciful God, to recall you from the world, and to prepare you for heaven. Improved, they are like the summer sun in reference to the harvest. Lost, or neglected, they are like the passing away of spring, when not a furrow has been turned, or a seed sown.

A revival of religion, in like manner, is a favorable time for securing salvation. There are influences on your heart when others are pressing into the kingdom, which exist at no other period of your life. It is a time when there is all the power of the appeal from sympathy; all the force of the fact that your companions and friends are leaving you for heaven; when the strong ties of love for them draw your mind towards religion; when all the confidence which you had in them becomes an argument for religion; and when, most of all, the Holy Spirit makes your heart tender, and speaks with any unusual power to the soul. But such a time, with all its advantages, usually soon passes away; and those advantages for salvation you cannot again create, or recall—any more than you can call up the bloom of spring in the snows of December.

I might, were there time, go on to say, that there are advantages for becoming a Christian when on a bed of sickness; or when in a pious family; or when you fall in with a pious stranger; or when you are sitting in the sanctuary; or when some truth powerfully arrests your attention. All these, and all kindred seasons, are the "summer" and the "harvest" of salvation; and all constitute a part of our probation with reference to the world to come. What advantages a youth has for becoming a Christian, who has a pious father and mother; for whom prayer is daily offered at the family altar, and for whom a parent feels the deepest solicitude that he should be saved! What advantage a young person has in the Sabbath-school for becoming a Christian, whose teacher seeks to guide him in the paths of salvation !—They are "summer" suns in regard to eternal life, and they furnish advantages which can no where else be found.

But all these will soon, 0, how soon, be gone. Life will soon be all travelled over. Not one of these advantages can be recalled. Gone will be every Sabbath; gone every season of instruction in the family and the Sabbathschool. You will soon have listened to the last sermon, and the last admonition of a friend. You will soon have passed through the season of youth, and then of middle life, and then of decrepid age. You will soon have felt the last strivings of the Spirit, and witnessed the last revival of religion. You will soon have seen the communion administered for the last time, and heard your pastor offer the last prayer for your salvation. Every favorable circumstance for preparing for heaven in youth; in the Sabbath-school; in the sanctuary; in your own feelings, and in the efforts of your friends, will soon have passed away; and not all the gold of Ophir could buy their return, even for a moment. The "harvest will have passed, and the summer ended"—whether you are, or are not saved.

Could man retrace his steps, and repair his follies, life would be a different thing. But the journey of life is like that of a man who is passing through a land full of diamonds and gold, to be traversed but once—and where they diminish in beauty, in number, and in value, every step he takes. What if he should pass all over that journey and not have gathered a diamond or a particle of gold—amused by the warbling of birds, or led by some 'Jack o' lantern' that danced along his path? Thus travels man over the journey of life, charmed by some trifle that turns off the mind from its great object, until life is ended, the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and the soul is not saved. The harp, the song and the dance allured the youth; business and ambition controlled the man; the love of honor and of gain drove away every serious thought; the Sabbath came and went; years rolled on, and he has come to the end of the busy, the gay, the unsatisfactory journey, and it is now too late, and he dies without hope. Every favorable influence for salvation has been neglected or abused; and he goes up the untrodden way to God, saying ' the harvest is passed, the summer is ended, and I am not saved.'

IV. The unpardoned sinner dies. Let us, in conclusion, look a moment at the various classes who will utter this unavailing lamentation, and the reflections of the soul, as it goes unforgiven up to God.

Such words will be uttered by the aged man who has suffered his long life to pass away without preparation to meet his Judge. He has seen many days. He has spent a long, and perhaps a pleasant "summer" of life. He may have risen high in wealth and honor. He may have been entrusted with important offices, and have been eminent for talent. He may have gained all that he hoped when he began life, and all that this world can furnish to its votaries. He may have been favored with all the means of grace; nay, he may have been not an inattentive hearer of the gospel. But his long life is closing. His summer is ended, and he is not saved. With all that he has gained, he has failed to acquire the one thing which alone now would be useful to him. He has lived to slight the offers of mercy from year to year, and now as he goes to eternity he can only take up the lamentation, " the harvest is passed, and I am uot saved."

The language of the text will be uttered at last by the man who often resolved to attend to the subject of religion, but who deferred it until it was too late. He was a professed believer in the truth of religion, and he intended to be a Christian. He read much, and thought much, and often resolved to defer it but little longer. At twenty, at thirty, at forty, at fifty years of life he resolved that if he lived a little longer he would become a Christian. When a youth he resolved that he would attend to it, should he become settled in life. He became settled, but was burdened with unexpected cares, and resolved then to seek religion at some future period. At one time he resolved that he would be a Christian should he be afflicted. God laid him on a bed of pain, and he found then, what he had often been told in vain, that a sickbed was a poor place to prepare to die; and then he promised in solemn covenant with God that if he were spared he would lead a different life. He was restored, and as before forgot his promise. Life with him has. been but little else than a series of unfulfilled resolutions to be a Christian. Every resolution has failed; and at the end of life, it remains only for him to say, "the summer is ended, and I am not saved."

These words will be uttered by the thoughtless and the gay. Life to them has been a summer scene in more senses than one. It has been—or they have tried to make it so—just what a summer day is to the gaudy insects that you see playing in the rays of the setting sun. It has been just as volatile, as frivolous, as useless. In regard to the great purpose for which God made them immortal, and placed them in the world when his Son died for sin, they have accomplished just as much as the insect does that spends its little day in playing in the sun-beams. At no time could they be persuaded that the gay summer of fashion would pass away; or that the chill November of retribution would come at last; or that these glittering scenes of life must ever be left; or that they had any more important business in living than could be found in dress and amusement. But the time has come at last, when all this gaiety and vanity is to be left. The beautiful summer, that seemed so full of flowers and sweet odors, passes away. The sun of life hastens to its setting. The circle of fashion has been visited for the last time; the theatre has been entered for the last time; the pleasures of the ball-room have been enjoyed for the last time; music has poured its last notes on the ear, and the last silvery tones of flattery are dying away, and now has come the serious hour to die. The gay summer is ended, and as the soul leaves the body these disregarded words will come to remembrance, "the harvest is passed, the summer is ended, and I am not saved."

Thus too it will be with him whose mind was often serious; with him who not seldom witnessed a revival of religion; with him who was trained in a pious family, and who always meant to be a Christian; with him who was half convinced, and who began to break off his sins; with him who was admonished by a dying parent to be prepared to meet him in heaven, and who meant to be thus prepared; with all that vast throng of all ages and characters who are placed on earth to prepare for heaven, who miss the great errand of their being, and who come to the close of life having really done nothing for their salvation. Those opportunities will all soon be gone to return no more. That dying father will speak to you no more; that departing mother will entreat you no more to be prepared for heaven ; and at the end of all, the lamentation will be,'the summer is ended, and I am not saved.'

With not a few here, it is not improbable, life will close in this manner. When too late you will remember the interesting invitations of the gospel, and your solemn resolutions. You will remember the sanctuary, the Sabbath, the Sabbath-school teacher, the pastor. You will remember the times when you were serious, and when you were half resolved to be a Christian. You will remember your life of gaiety, or vice; your days when you sought pleasure, and when for the baubles of this life you jeoparded your soul's salvation.

At the close of all you will say, 'It is ended, and I am not saved. I have trod life's flowery way, and the journey is over, and I am not saved. I have visited the house of God, and been entreated to attend to my soul; but I am now to go there no more, and I am not saved. I have climbed the steeps of ambition, and I have sought for honor, and all that struggling is over, and I am not saved. I have mingled in the gay circles of life, and all that is ended, and I am not saved. I have ranged the fields of pleasure, and trod along the flowery streams of life, and my rambles are ended, and I am not saved. I have resolved, and re-resolved to be a Christian, and all is now over, and I am not saved. I have crossed oceans, and visited other lands, and now am about to embark on the ocean of eternity, and visit an undiscovered country from which I am not to return, but I am not saved. Closed is the summer of life; ceased is the voice of friendly admonition; gone are my opportunities of salvation; youth, strength, conviction for sin, the Sabbath, the privileges of the sanctuary, all are passed away, and I am not saved.'

0, on how many beds of death is this language heard! 0, how many an unpardoned spirit goes up to God, saying, ' the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and I am not saved!' What are tha sighings of despair but the lamentation,' the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved?' Sinner, the 'summer' is passing away; youth is hastening to manhood; and manhood is hastening to the grave. Sabbaths are hastening away, and privileges are hastening away, and soon, 0 how soon, may your lips on a dying bed take up the lamentation, 'the harvest is passed, the summer is ended, and I am not saved.'

THE END.

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